By Alessandra Santiago

Center for Ocean Solutions intern Alessandra Santiago, who was political adviser to the Ambassador from Palau to the European Union before and during COP21, reflects on her experience at the climate talks and how policymakers can move forward in 2016 and beyond.

Tavarua Island, Fiji. 200. Stevetukl. CC-BY-2.0.

 

A little over two months ago, the gavel fell on the Paris Agreement at the UN Conference of the Parties (COP21). Many have heralded this as a moment in which the world came together to achieve a historically significant climate accord. Under the skilled diplomatic guidance of the COP presidency, each state participated readily in this massive undertaking to achieve a legally binding resolution on limiting the negative impacts of climate change.

Yet, the bulk of the work still lies ahead for policymakers around the globe. While the Paris text was adopted by consensus at COP21, at least 55 of the signatory countries—representing over half of global greenhouse gas emissions—need to individually ratify the agreement before it enters into legally-binding international force in 2020, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Republic of Fiji recently made headlines by becoming the first country to ratify the Paris Agreement, lighting the beacon for the rest of the world to follow suit. The formal signing of the Paris Treaty by Heads of State at the United Nations in New York will happen on April 22nd – Earth Day 2016. Given the significance and momentum of the Paris Agreement, experts expect many heads of state to be in attendance at this high-level signing event. The signatory period for countries to be able to formally sign onto the agreement will then be open until April 21, 2017. 

For countries seeking to protect their marine resources, this ratification process is a necessary and productive step to preserve ocean health. The Treaty outlines three main tools on which countries with low incomes and vulnerable coastlines, like Small Island Developing States and other Least Developed Countries, will depend to ensure the implementation of adequate and timely climate adaptation mechanisms:

1. The establishment of a grant-based financing mechanism to implement adaptation measures;

2. The limitation of greenhouse gas emissions to the point of ensuring that the long-term temperature increase by 2030 does not exceed 1.5°C;

3. The separation of Loss and Damages (L&D) from Adaptation as the concept by which funding can become available to those states whose sovereignty and natural resources are threatened by the effects of climate change.

While these objectives aim to aid development in countries with low capacity to self-fund adaptation mechanisms, the Treaty’s text glosses over the need for ocean-specific protective measures. COP21 made great progress in paving the way for future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but the inclusion of sustainable ocean management in internationally binding climate agreements has not yet been achieved.

The Center for Ocean Solutions seeks to provide insight and support to policymakers looking to move forward with science-based marine management solutions in their own countries. Following the conclusion of COP21 in December of last year, the Center for Ocean Solutions released two videos about the importance of ocean ecosystems to human society and the science-based solutions ocean and coastal communities can employ to reduce the climate change impacts on ocean and coastal habitats.

The Center for Ocean Solutions hopes to produce a video series on “Solutions for the Ocean” as a prelude to the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium to be held in Honolulu, Hawaii in June 2016. 

 

Alessandra Santiago received her masters degree in earth systems at Stanford University. She was a political adviser to the to the Ambassador from Palau to the European Union before and during COP21.

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By Kristen Weiss

At COP21 last December, negotiators from 195 countries signed a momentous deal to address climate change, one that is considered by many to be a historic turning point in the world’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gases. What’s more, thanks to the concerted efforts of many organizations and individuals, the Paris Agreement includes recognition of the ocean both in the preamble and in the Agreement itself within the context of ‘Ecosystem Integrity’. 

During the build-up to COP21, scientists, conservationists, NGOs and other groups sought to bring greater attention to the links between climate change and ocean ecosystems. They pressed for strong policy action to address climate impacts on the ocean. Sylvia Earle’s organization Mission Blue, for example, rallied ocean-minded citizens with the hashtag #oceansforclimate, and several op-eds from scientists and policymakers stressed the need to address the climate-ocean link (e.g. this one written by Maria Damanake of The Nature Conservancy and a COS Advisory Council member).

Small island nations such as Palau, made great strides at COP21. Photo: Lux Tennore 2008, CC-BY-2.0.

Ocean experts from the Center for Ocean Solutions and our partner organizations (the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Hopkins Marine Station, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) helped galvanize the climate-ocean dialogue by collaborating on a two-part video series to present the latest scientific knowledge about climate change impacts on the ocean, and offer solutions to protect valuable ocean ecosystems.  

The first video, released on the opening day of COP21, stresses the importance of ocean ecosystems to humankind, and how climate change threatens to topple the fisheries, reefs, and other resources that societies worldwide rely on

The second video, released shortly after COP21, delves deeper into some of the science-based solutions that communities can start using now to reduce climate change impacts on ocean and coastal habitats. The COS partner experts highlighted in the film emphasize that actions - like strengthening fisheries management and improving water quality by reducing urban and agricultural runoff - can boost the resilience of ocean ecosystems, making them better able to withstand the impacts of climate change.

Both videos feature representatives of our partner organizations, including Jim Barry (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute), Larry Crowder (Center for Ocean Solutions), Rob Dunbar (Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment), Stephen Palumbi (Hopkins Marine Station), and Margaret Spring (Monterey Bay Aquarium), who together paint a picture both of concern and hope for the future of our ocean.

While the Paris Agreement was an encouraging step toward climate change mitigation, the real work is just beginning. The Center for Ocean Solutions hopes to produce a video series on “Solutions for the Ocean” in the coming months, describing how ocean scientists and managers are actively working to understand and protect the ocean in a changing world.  

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By Kristen Weiss

Inside a desalination plant. John Wiley, 2009. CC-BY-NC-2.0

In light of California’s ongoing drought and growing water needs, Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment, through the Center for Ocean Solutions and Water in the West, collaborated with The Nature Conservancy and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to facilitate an Uncommon Dialogue among cross-sector experts on the potential impacts of ocean desalination on coastal and marine ecosystems.

Over the course of two days, leading experts from academia, non-governmental organizations, private industry and government agencies gathered in Monterey to exchange information and promote open discussion about the best available science, technology and policy related to desalination. Meeting participants also identified key issues and knowledge gaps in science and policy that should be explored in future work. The dialogue was split into sessions that focused on the regulatory framework of desalination in California, siting and community impacts, seawater intakes and brine disposal.

Participants shared candid perspectives on a number of key issues regarding the role of desalination in California’s water future. First, participants highlighted that desalination would not, at least in the foreseeable future, significantly reduce stress on freshwater resources or ecosystems such as the Sacramento Delta. Second, desalination is likely to contribute only a small fraction to California’s total water budget due to high costs and energy requirements, although it may be very important to specific coastal communities that do not have other sources of water.

Third, in light of the limited role that desalination may play in alleviating California’s demand for potable water, the participants actively discussed how alternatives, such as water recycling and conservation, may be better utilized to relieve growing pressure on freshwater resources. Fourth, they also considered how the role of desalination might change, and potentially grow, as new technologies reduce the costs and environmental impacts associated with its use.

Fifth, although knowledge gaps persist about the various ecological and economic impacts of desalination, participants in the dialogue were encouraged by the many years of experience and data already available in California on such issues as ocean water intake and brine disposal. 

Finally, the group agreed that while most siting decisions for desalination facilities to date have been opportunistic, future desalination may require an integrated spatial approach to identify locations where facilities would best meet supply demands while also minimizing impacts to coastal and marine environments. 

Dialogue participants proposed several next steps, including drafting a white paper report summarizing the meeting, developing frameworks for synthesizing disparate datasets and linking best available science to policy for future desalination decision making. In general the group agreed that—as additional information is gathered and synthesized—a rigorous examination of the full costs, benefits and trade-offs of desalination in the context of the full costs and sustainability of current water supply solutions would also be a critically important future step.

As California’s water needs and environmental policies continue to co-evolve, there will be an ever-greater demand for integrated, innovative solutions that consider both socio-economic and environmental impacts. If experts across different sectors continue to strengthen the lines of communication opened during this two-day dialogue, the likelihood of a sustainable future for water resources in the state will greatly increase.

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Laura Good is the Education Manager for the Center for Ocean Solutions. She leads the Monterey Area Research Institutions' Network for Education. (MARINE) Laura has led an impressive career in educating people of all ages inside and outside of the classroom. She has worked with camps, museums and aquariums to study informal learning settings where the general public can take the reins on their environmental education. She is also a firm believer that education spreads far beyond school. Committed to making herself a lifelong learner, Laura treats each day as a series of teachable moments.

Laura received her MS in marine resource management and PhD in science education from Oregon State University. She specializes in free choice learning, where the learner has choice and control over learning experiences they engage in, often associated with out-of-school learning. At Hatfield Marine Science Center, she worked as an educational research assistant. There she helped design exhibits and studied how people learn in museum settings. She was also an educational evaluator for COSEE Pacific Partnerships where she examined how adult volunteers were trained to communicate science and impart knowledge onto audiences at the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Oregon Coastal Master Naturalist program. In addition, she has also developed a variety of K-12, after-school, and day camp curriculum in ocean science. 

When did you know you were an educator?

I did my undergrad in ocean science, but I found science research a bit tedious. The end of my second year, I joined a camp America program. I loved the outdoors, and it was something about being with kids and their ridiculous enthusiasm for everything that made me realize I wanted to be an educator. I felt more like myself in that role. I knew that I wasn’t really interested in doing science research; I was interested in talking to people about science. The reason I love education so much is because it’s not about me. It’s about empowering others. It’s making sense of how people make sense of the world.

What do you think your role as an educator is?

I think it’s my role to expose people to a variety of different opportunities and ideas so that they can make choices for themselves. As an educator, I don’t think it’s my role to tell people how to live their lives. Of course I want people to be motivated to protect the environment, but it’s up to them to decide what role they play in that.

Laura got her start in education as a camp leader for youth education.

Why work on improving higher education experiences when graduate students are already committed to learning?

It’s a fallacy to think “you’ve already got them.” School isn’t the end point; it is sometimes the start of these journeys. They’re trying to make their way in the world and graduate school has a heavy influence on their career choices.  Because not everybody is well suited to academic jobs, you don’t necessarily have them in a single discipline for life. If you want it to inspire them to be part of a larger problem solving conversation, you have to help them connect their personal interest to their professional interests. That’s what ultimately makes them happy in their work. 

What is the value of having graduate students take courses at different educational institutions through the passport project?

In our Education and Leadership Development work at the Center, the passport project is MARINE’s effort to illuminate and increase access to the variety of special agreements between MARINE’s partner institutions that allow students to take courses at each other’s’ campuses, without paying additional tuition. Each partner campus has strengths in different areas of ocean research. Passport is meant to encourage students to take advantage of those resources around the region, and network with folks from other ocean disciplines. We also now craft multi campus courses that make use of the passport connections. The more graduate students are exposed to different ways of thinking, the better they’re able to envision that bigger picture of what they’re working within. The passport program is an example of an interdisciplinary education opportunity. It’s very easy in grad school to put your head down and never look up to learn the cultures or the ideas of other disciplines, even those similar to our own. It’s good for the students to realize there’s institutional culture and how that may be playing into what they’re picking and choosing in their professional interests. If you’re able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, you’ll be able to listen to their ideas, and you’ll better understand where certain expectations, research, and decisions come from. 

Are there any particularly memorable moments from MARINE work?

One of the things I strive for with the MARINE activities is ah-ha moments. A lot of that comes out of our workshops and courses. In the past year, I was most proud of the ocean policy course. It was hard work putting that course together, but to watch those students really start to feel empowered about a system that was seemingly a tough one to work in was really inspiring. We’ve also recently moved to having our student liaisons organize more of our main program events because they have their finger on the pulse of what people want to hear about. Three liaisons organized the women in ocean careers panel.  There was something wonderful about watching people being empowered by what they were hearing, and realizing there are resources to tackle these problems. 

What makes someone an ocean leader?

Leadership is defined by the learner. You could define it is as someone who manages their work in a way that leads something forward. Leadership is going to look different depending on what they’re interested in doing as a career. At MARINE, they’re encouraged to be the best they can be, but also to think of what kind of leader they want to be. It’s really up to them. I don’t think you need to be “in charge” of a lot to be impactful. I think it’s more that you’re trying to move new thinking forward. I don’t want to encourage this idea that you can only take on a leadership role if you’re aiming really high like a president or CEO or director of NOAA. That’s awesome, but you can also do fantastic work at lower managerial positions. 

What would you do to improve ocean literacy?

The immediate response is to improve the ocean conversation at the K-12 level, the idea being that if you catch them early then the interests will persevere. But, in reality, I think it’s more allowing people to develop personal relationships with the ocean. That’s a big deal in a country as big as this where if you live in Des Moines, Iowa you may have never even seen the ocean. It’s about helping people consider how they impact the ocean and how the ocean impacts them. 

What do you do when you’re not working?

There’s a part of me that’s really indoorsy and wants to watch movies all day, but I also love the outdoors. I’m a huge nerd. I’m obsessed with Star Wars to a rather bizarre level. I loved the new movie; it was back to its origins. I love kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming. Luna (my rescue dog) is also my hobby. She’s a lively dog, so she takes a lot of attention.  

Laura and her rescue dog, Luna. 

If you could be anywhere where would you be?

I would be in the warm weather, on the beach. If I could have this job be in a hot place with the roof off, I think I would be good.

What advice do you have for the world?

Be mindful of all the different learning opportunities you’ve had in your life and how that plays into what you think today. Learning from many perspectives has become very institutionalized, and can even be a scary word for some people. Take ownership of your learning. If you don’t like the way someone is trying to teach or mentor you, be vocal about it because you won’t get your learning needs met unless you make noise. 

 

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Precious coastlines around the world are losing important habitats. The compounding effects of rising sea levels, more severe storms, and growing coastal populations put pressure on the existence of important coastal habitats and the many services they provide. In California, many coastal communities are responding to these threats by building protective structures, such as coastal armoring, that may threaten the continued existence of beaches, dunes, wetlands, and other habitats. Collaborators from the Center for Ocean Solutions, the Natural Capital Project and Stanford Law School hope to clearly assess and convey the value of key habitats by creating an online map tuned to the needs of coastal managers and planners. 

Natural features, such as sand dunes, can protect human infrastructure. 

“This effort requires an interdisciplinary group that brings the ecosystem services science expertise from the Natural Capital Project, the science to policy experience from the Center for Ocean Solutions and the in-depth legal research skills from Stanford Law School,” said the Center’s Research Development Manager, Eric Hartge.  

Climate change and its major coastal impacts—rising sea levels and more damaging storms—are fast approaching. However, many communities have not yet developed long-term plans to protect their coastal assets. Built infrastructure such as coastal armoring may be convenient for short-term protection against shoreline retreat, but with time, they may also succumb to erosion and can even increase erosion rates in other parts of the coastline. If protected and provided room to migrate with rising sea levels, ecosystems can naturally provide long-term services that can help protect human infrastructure. For example, sand dunes and wetlands can be effective buffers against storms that threaten roads, homes and other critical assets. 

This work, sponsored by the Realizing Environmental Innovation Program (REIP) from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, will provide coastal managers with a relevant, science-based policy tool to prepare for the future of a changing climate. By co-developing an interactive, online map highlighting the role that coastal ecosystems play in reducing exposure to erosion or inundation, the interdisciplinary project team will provide a means to prioritize actions that focus on natural solutions wherever possible. 

“The online mapping viewer will make visualizing vulnerable coastal communities and identifying priority habitats for protecting those communities as easy as clicking a mouse,” said Dr. Lisa Wedding, the Center's research associate for spatial ecology and analysis.  

This project builds from existing collaborations with Sonoma, Marin, Santa Cruz, and Monterey counties to conduct coastal adaptation policy assessments. Next steps include connecting the results of the assessments to potential actions and then using this information to inform amendments to local coastal plans. At its core, the REIP grant and its projects aim to enact one of the Center for Ocean Solutions’ key goals: pairing sound science with policy-making. When science and policy collaborate, the result can be informed decisions and a safer, more resilient coastline.  

 

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By Paige Welsh

Jesse Port, former Center for Ocean Solutions early career science fellow, is finding a way to identify ocean species without laying eyes on them. A bottle of sea water is laden with trace amounts of DNA sloughed off by passing organisms. Even well-camouflaged organisms leave clues in an ecosystem such as bits of scales, hair and feces that researchers can now detect with eDNA technology. Scientists hope this technology will one day spare them the time and costs of conventional visual surveys and spare ecosystems the harm of destructive survey methods like trawling.

Divers at Hopkins Marine Station set out to survey biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Jesse Port.

The eDNA technology has already proven its value in tracking well-hidden organisms that scientists would like to keep tabs on such as invasive or endangered species. For example, researchers in Florida use eDNA to track invasive anacondas. The giant snakes wreak havoc on ecosystems by eating endemic mammals and birds, but they can blend nearly perfectly in the everglade swamps.Now researchers can track the presence species like the anaconda even if they never see them. However, tracking more than one species in a sample has been considered uncharted waters, until now.

In his latest study, published in Molecular Ecology, Port and his colleagues take eDNA to the next level by moving from species specific identification to identifying entire communities. Port and his team first used eDNA to detect multiple species at the Monterey Bay Aquarium . After a successful trial tracking the tunas and other creatures in a controlled tank, they took the next step to the Aquarium’s back yard: Monterey’s kelp forests.

In the wild, Port and his colleagues found that that eDNA detected eleven of the twelve species groups that scuba divers from Hopkins Marine Station saw in visual surveys. The eDNA even highlighted camouflaged species, such as flat-fish, that divers often overlook.

Port was pleasantly surprised to find that within this dynamic nearshore ecosystem, eDNA could distinguish fish communities located only 60 meters apart.

“You could pick out kelp forest habitats or seagrass habitats. You may think that eDNA may be homogenized in the water because of currents, but there were clear differences even in habitats right next to each other,” said Port, “For community biodiversity, if we can ground truth the method more, eDNA will become a viable monitoring option and be more desirable than visual surveys just because of the ground you can cover.”

While scooping up a cup of water and heading to the lab sounds convenient, analyzing the eDNA of an entire vertebrate community poses unique challenges. Finding the DNA of vertebrates, animals with backbones like fishes and seals, can be like trying to find a few faces in a super-bowl stadium because sea water is packed with plankton DNA and bacteria.

A researcher analyzes eDNA samples. Photo courtesy of Jesse Port.

The current technology uses a technique called PCR to make millions of copies of a choice piece of DNA. A whisper of vertebrate DNA can be found and amplified over the roar of the microbial crowd. The challenge is choosing a gene unique to the desired species for the PCR to latch onto.

Once the team began analyzing the eDNA in Alexandria Boehm’s lab at Stanford University, Port found that sharks and rays were under-represented. Because of unique variances in their DNA, the PCR process could not efficiently multiply the DNA of cartilaginous fishes. The efficiency of the PCR process varies from species to species, and thus using eDNA to measure the number of individual organisms still needs development. In the future, Port hopes to use genetic analysis without PCR to circumvent these problems.

Contamination from human DNA was also an enormous risk.

“Our methods are super sensitive to vertebrates, so even a small amount of human contamination can potentially drown out target DNA in the water,” explained Port.

To compensate, the researchers handled all the samples fastidiously and ran controls at all steps to monitor for contamination.

Port noted that from the aquarium, to the ocean, to the lab, creating this research called for a unique blend of expertise. 

“It was very collaborative. All kinds of skills are needed, and I enjoyed working with all the people and organizations involved,” said Port.

Such research proves the potential strides science can make by pooling resources and collaborating. The Center for Ocean Solutions was proud to facilitate Port’s eDNA work with its partner organizations. The Center is continuing to ground truth eDNA work by partnering with MBARI and Stanford on the CANON (Controlled, Agile, and Novel Ocean Network) project, led by Francisco Chavez and Barbara Block, and Ali Boehm and Francisco Chavez on the Marine Biodiversity Observing Network (MBON) project in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This ongoing work is funded with the generous support of NOAA, NASA and the Seaver Institute.

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Specialties:

Angee Doerr is the Coupled Human-Natural Systems Research Associate with the Center for Ocean Solutions. In this role, Angee focuses on linking human actions and stakeholders to a variety of ocean concerns, providing insight into the factors that influence global change and who may be impacted by ocean issues and solutions. Angee is currently involved in a variety of projects, including work on California and international fisheries, impacts of climate change, and resilience and data dissemination. Prior to joining the Center, Angee served as a California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) Science Policy Fellow working as a consultant for the California Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water. She is also a Commander in the US Navy Reserves; in this capacity Angee has performed as the Fisheries and Aquaculture subject matter expert for the Navy and the officer-in-charge of various military organizations. Prior to joining the Reserves, Angee spent nearly eight years serving as an active duty Naval officer. When Angee is not working on protecting ocean resources, she enjoys exploring them, and is always up for scuba diving for fun or for research. 

Angee received a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of California, Davis, combining foci in ecology, environmental policy and resource economics to better understand ecological and socioeconomic impacts of policy change in fisheries management. She also received a Masters of Business Administration from American Military University, where she focused on ecotourism, and a Bachelor’s from Duke University in environmental science.

Contact Information:
Email: andoerr@stanford.edu
Phone: 831-333-2077

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